Panama Reopens its Land Borders while Costa Rica Stays Closed for (at least) Another Month

Feb 02, 2021

Panama and Costa Rica make opposite decisions over the reopening of their land borders. One country opens up to tourists again while another stays closed.

Last weekend, Panama announced it was reopening its land borders for the first time since March 13, 2020.

Tourists from Costa Rica can now cross into Panama, if they wish. Panama also shares a border with Colombia, although that remote frontier in the deep jungles of the Darien Gap has always been effectively closed, just due to geography. 

All travelers entering Panama by land, including Panamanian citizens and residents, must present a negative COVID test, taken within 48 hours of reaching the border. That test can be either a PCR or rapid antigen.

Border officials will refuse entry to anyone displaying any symptoms of COVID.

Panama also announced it was extending residency permits until the end of June. Any foreigner who’s residency expires before June 30 won’t be subject to penalty.

Travelers looking to leave Panama by land will find themselves disappointed, unless they’re Costa Rican citizens or residents.

Costa Rican also made an announcement about its land borders, saying they’ll stay closed until at least March 1.

This means anyone can enter Panama from Costa Rica, but only Costa Rican citizens or residents can enter Costa Rica from Panama. No Panamanian citizens or residents can enter Costa Rica across the border, nor foreign tourists in Panama.

Costa Rica is reviewing its land border policy on a month-by-month basis, depending on COVID numbers. The borders with Nicaragua and Panama closed on March 18, 2020.

The ruling to extend Costa Rica’s border closure was signed by President Carlos Alvarado, Health Minister Daniel Salas, and Security Minister Michael Soto.

The decision to extend the deadline for the closure of land borders is based on addressing the national state of emergency by COVID-19, in what corresponds to the management of migratory movements, and ensuring the well-being of the population in the country,” said a government statement.

As it stands, only Costa Rica and Belize still have their land borders closed. All other countries are now open for the time being.

The land borders between Costa Rica and Panama and Costa Rica and Nicaragua are crucial for a certain type of expat in each country.

“Perpetual tourists” (tourists living in Costa Rica, Panama, or Nicaragua without residency) used to cross into a neighboring country to renew their passport stamps. Those in Panama crossed into Costa Rica, while “PTs” in Costa Rica went to Panama or Nicaragua. For their part, “PTs” in Nicaragua went to Costa Rica and then crossed back.

All this ended when COVID started and the borders shut, leaving perpetual tourists wondering if the old times will ever return or if easy, cheap visa runs are now gone for good. Only time will tell.

James Dyde is the editor of centralamerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.